I grew up seeing first hand the hard work of a Police Fed rep. I was aware of the long hours helping officers in all manner of difficulties. I saw the desire to protect those who would protect others and in particular I saw the courage to stand up to others where there was injustice. I didn’t think about any of this at the time. Even when I joined the Police myself, I still didn’t consider the value of the Federation. In my mind, it was a given. Something I knew everyone could rely on when the chips were down, whatever the circumstances. One day, I needed that help myself. I was very lucky to be supported, through one of the more difficult periods of my life, by the Metropolitan Police Federation and I am extremely grateful for all their help. I cannot underestimate what a difference that support made.
For the above reasons, I am extremely uncomfortable about writing these following words. I know that what I am going to say will hurt some people, particularly some very good, hard working people. I have no wish to do that. I hope that, in reading this, those people who feel aggrieved by what I have to say will understand that I do not criticise the hard working, caring individuals who support their colleagues by working as a Federation representative.
OK – here goes.
The Federation is far removed from it’s membership. This is a dangerous position for both the Federation and the membership. Moreover, the vast majority of members only pay their subs for the legal representation if ever they find themselves in need of such. They have little faith in the help or support available. The communication between the Fed and it’s members is, for the most part, woeful. I recognise that I am generalising and that some areas will be far better than others.
The speed of action from the Federation in relation to Government plans has been shockingly slow. Federated ranks are crying out for support. They have looked to their own and found at best, soothing noises. What action have they seen? A good conference, where an excellent leader gave possibly the best speech of his career and (whatever the rhetoric) a very quick witted joke at the Home Secretary’s expense. Do not let any one tell you (and they will, in the coming weeks and months, as the battle for the top job hots up) that this was demeaning or unprofessional. It was politics. It was exactly how politicians play and it was a glimpse of how a good leader can indeed take on the might of the Government.
I am not saying I think people should go around making cheap jokes at the expense of others and I am not suggesting that this is good practise. Some people will try to tell you that this is what I am saying. I am not. Police officers, most especially Federated Ranks, are under attack. They have developed a siege mentality and as such, a little humour, a little dig against the Other Side is an instant morale boost, if only a very temporary one.
What else have they seen done in their name? A march in London, attended by an unprecedented number of officers and supporters. Even some of the Occupy people came along to support the march. A veritable coup. Well, it would have been, had the Federation followed it up with hard hitting publicity. They didn’t even do a proper head count so had to accept the 35,000 figure given to the media. It was a far greater number. I know this because India 99 gave an estimate from the air. The officers on the ground who received that estimate were prevented from making it known. The number given by the officers in the air was 70,000. I can tell you this. I am not a serving officer. The Federation could have used this figure, but they did not. It could have been used to destabilise the relationship between ACPO and the Government, it could have been used to garner further public support, more media attention and so on. It was, in my opinion, an opportunity lost.
Anything else? Well, there have been some ‘strong’ letters written on members’ behalf to Government, making clear how very unfair all these changes are to the Federated Ranks. Im sure members read this letters and feel very comforted, that they have a chance of winning some ground back with the Federation taking such action….
Actually, no. No, they don’t. They rightly think such letters have no sway at all in modern politics. They wonder what is happening, why it takes so long to see any action. They wanted the ballot on industrial rights. They are still waiting. Of course there are legalities to look into, of course there is a lot of work behind the scenes. That is no excuse to leave your members hanging like this. Many members do not even understand that the issue is not ‘will you strike’ but ‘should you have the to right to strike if you are subject to redundancy’. Two very different points but they have been allowed to drift and grow out of shape in the months since the march in London. This is irresponsible and it is counterproductive.
Police officers are not members of the Armed Forces. Times have changed and the rug has been pulled from under their feet. They are subject or will be subject to the same vagaries of employment as other workers but without the same protections. They are becoming a body of people to be used and abused. This is instrumental in the erosion of British Policing and the dehumanising of a group of people. I could point you to any number of examples of how this is happening already, but if you are still reading this, you know for yourself, don’t you?
British Police must be protected and the Federated Ranks need the most protection. Never have they needed their Federation more. Never has the Federation been more impotent. This is not about the leadership and I will not accept this being turned against Paul McKeever. He has undoubtedly worked extremely hard indeed on behalf of his members.
This is about the structure of the Federation. Structure gives some people security whilst it inhibits others. There is no choice left for the Federation. The structure must change if the Federation is to survive. I do not say this lightly. I am aware of the gravity of such a comment. There must be immense and immediate transformation if there is any hope at all of gaining some ground back for the members. The members, who give of themselves to an honourable profession for the better of society. Who will sustain injury to themselves to save a stranger. Who will take the ultimate risks and live with the knowledge of how this may effect their own loved ones, to protect people they don’t know and who may not even like them, just because they are a Police Officer.
If these people, these everyday heroes, can make that commitment, then they deserve that level of bravery and risk from their Federation. There ARE options. Try them. I would say start small and build but there is no time left. It is a matter of change to survive. Change to keep the Federation alive and change for the survival of British Policing. Give the members a reason to pay their subs, not just for the legal representation. Give them a real reason to be a member of the Police Federation of England and Wales and even if you fail, you will have failed trying your best.